The last time fans in the C of Red were this excited about the Calgary Flames playoff prospects was back in the 2018-19 campaign. You might remember the boys in red being the class of the Western Conference, with their top unit being hailed as the best line in hockey. Sound familiar?
Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, and Matthew Tkachuk all enjoyed career-high point production that season and yes, those three are trending to repeat that impressive feat in 2021-22. But that begs the question, what’s so different about this version of the Flames? What is stopping them from folding their tent in another embarrassing first-round exit? The short answer: depth.
The 2018-19 squad had the second-best record in the entire NHL, but that didn’t matter as the eighth-seeded Colorado Avalanche easily dismantled the Flames in five games. Exactly how did that happen to such a dominant regular-season team? That’s easy – the Avalanche effectively shut down Calgary’s top line, and there wasn’t nearly enough secondary scoring to compensate. That’s where newcomers Blake Coleman and Tyler Toffoli come in. Adding these seasoned playoff warriors to a top-heavy roster makes the 2021-22 Flames significantly more balanced and primed for postseason success.
Coleman is Coming off Back-to-Back Stanley Cup Final
When the Flames signed Coleman to a six-year, $29.4 million contract in the offseason, the rationale was two-fold: bring in a proven 20-goal scorer to boost secondary offense and add some much-needed playoff pedigree to a team that can’t seem to win a round to save its life. The gritty two-way winger is already on pace for 20 goals this season, and he’s a winner of the past two Stanley Cups as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning. While that certainly checks both boxes, he also brings balance to the Flames’ middle six and can play up and down the lineup.
During Tampa’s playoff runs, Coleman technically played on the third line, but if you look at the minutes he logged en route to hoisting the Stanley Cup over his head (twice), you could make the argument he was playing a top-six role. That kind of depth is what the Flames have been missing in their failed attempts to reach the second round of the postseason. After a slow start to the season points-wise, the native of Plano, Texas, has been putting up goals and assists in bunches in the last few weeks playing on a line with Mikael Backlund and Andrew Mangiapane.
Coleman is a 200-foot player who also brings the hard-edge style needed to succeed in the playoffs. This may sound cliché, but the guy definitely goes hard to the net and plays with grit. I’m not saying the Flames were soft before they signed the former Lightning winger, but the team became tougher to play against with the two-time Cup winner on board. Heading into the final third of the 2021-22 season, the team’s top two units are rolling, but everyone knows you need three lines that produce to make a deep run in the playoffs. That’s why the Toffoli pick-up was so critical.
Toffoli Trade Will Give the Flames Three Scoring Lines
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as soon as Toffoli rolled into town, Calgary’s beleaguered third line finally started producing. In the two games with the former Montreal Canadien on the roster, the third unit has suddenly come alive. Go figure. Dillon Dube and Sean Monahan have combined for five points since the new addition joined the squad on Tuesday night.
With Toffoli’s speed and hockey sense added to the mix, the Monahan line created six high-danger scoring opportunities (according to Natural Stat Trick) and looked sharp all night in a 6-2 drubbing of the Columbus Blue Jackets. And who could forget that incredible, highlight-reel goal he scored while balancing on one foot to close out the game? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more successful debut by a brand new Flame.
While the team certainly appreciates the speedy winger’s ability to score big goals in the regular season, he also brings plenty of postseason swagger to the Flames’ roster. Coleman may have an impressive 53 playoff games under his belt, but Toffoli has 76, including five goals and 14 points in Montreal’s 2020-21 Cinderella Stanley Cup run. The 29-year-old also has a championship ring from 2014, when he had seven goals and 14 points while playing for coach Darryl Sutter’s Cup-winning Los Angeles Kings. His winning experience should prove invaluable to a team in desperate need of playoff confidence.
The Flames Also Have a 2-Time Cup Winner Behind the Bench
Looking at the Flames roster, I now see five guys who have hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup over their head – Toffoli, Coleman, Milan Lucic, Trevor Lewis, and Brad Richardson (who appears to have lost his spot to youngster Adam Ruzicka). All but Lucic are new additions to the team this season, but they all know how to play “Sutter-style” hockey and know exactly what is expected of them. Another big difference between the under-performers from 2018-19 and the 2021-22 version of the Flames has to do with the man who stands behind the bench.
The team with the best record in the West a few years ago had Bill Peters as head coach, but he seemed to have no answers when Colorado’s big guns blew the doors off Calgary in short order. When the Flames hired Sutter, they got a two-time Stanley Cup winner and the last bench boss to take Calgary to the Stanley Cup Final. Remember what he said when he was hired midway through last season? He has “unfinished business.” He’s ready to take this team deep into the playoffs.
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While Sutter has his squad seemingly scoring goals at will right now, he also brings a structured, defense-first mindset that I think is custom-built for the playoffs. Adding Coleman and Toffoli to a team that already has four 20-plus goal-scorers and a future Hall of Fame coach finally makes Calgary a true contender in the Western Conference. If the Flames take this strong play into the postseason, I’d hate to be their first-round match-up… or their second.